How South Su­dan’s weather ser­vice is fail­ing farm­ers

Viet Nam News - - ENGLISH THROUGH THE NEWS - By Hellen Toby

In Shirkat cat­tle camp on the out­skirts of Juba, farm­ers say South Su­dan's in­creas­ingly un­pre­dictable weather has turned their lives into a se­ries of dilem­mas.

Un­ex­pected show­ers dur­ing the cold sea­son can cause cows to con­tract East Coast Fever, a po­ten­tially fa­tal ill­ness.

Farm­ers then have to choose be­tween pay­ing for medicine that costs nearly US$40 per dose or leav­ing their cat­tle un­treated and hop­ing they sur­vive, said camp leader Deng Bul.

When the dry sea­son comes early or lasts longer than usual, pas­toral­ists face an­other tough de­ci­sion: Do they stay and wait for rain - pos­si­bly los­ing some an­i­mals to star­va­tion - or move to other pas­tures and risk get­ting caught up in the coun­try's on­go­ing civil war?

If they knew when heavy rain or drought were com­ing, the farm­ers said, they could make bet­ter de­ci­sions about their cat­tle and crops.

But in South Su­dan, where two of the main eco­nomic ac­tiv­i­ties - farm­ing and pas­toral­ism - rely heav­ily on suf­fi­cient and reg­u­lar rain­fall, the es­sen­tial ser­vice of weather fore­cast­ing has been largely miss­ing since the young na­tion at­tained its in­de­pen­dence from Su­dan in 2011.

Dec­i­mated by civil war, South Su­dan's me­te­o­rol­ogy depart­ment is now barely run­ning, with in­ad­e­quate fund­ing, out­dated equip­ment and un­trained staff, ex­perts say.

As a re­sult, it is un­able to pro­vide even the most ba­sic weather in­for­ma­tion to the pub­lic, they say, with some peo­ple even un­aware it ex­ists.

When told there was a me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal sta­tion nearby in Juba ded­i­cated to pre­dict­ing the weather, the farm­ers in Shirkat cat­tle camp said they had no idea the ser­vice even ex­isted.

"I've never heard of this witch doctor you are talk­ing about. Maybe it is for the ed­u­cated," Bul said.

More data, bet­ter de­ci­sions

Achiku Rashid Wani, a farmer in Juba's Gudele sub­urb, said he had heard of South Su­dan's weather ser­vice, but said it is use­less for most farm­ers.

He grows veg­eta­bles dur­ing the dry sea­son us­ing a petrol-pow­ered wa­ter pump.

"The fac­tor that is af­fect­ing me is the fuel prices; it is ex­pen­sive," he said.

"If I could get in­for­ma­tion from this (me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal) depart­ment, it would help me plan when to spend money on fuel."

Be­fore the start of the sec­ond Su­danese civil war in 1983, south­ern Su­dan had just over 40 me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal sta­tions, said Nhial Tit­mamer, a se­nior re­searcher at the Sudd In­sti­tute, a Jubabased re­search or­gan­i­sa­tion.

They gen­er­ated data made avail­able to the pub­lic, mak­ing them es­sen­tial to farm­ers, Tit­mamer said.

But most were de­stroyed in the fight­ing, with the war play­ing "a huge role (in) re­duc­ing the ca­pac­ity" of the re­main- ing sta­tions, Tit­mamer said.

Of the five weather bases still stand­ing, only three are op­er­a­tional, ac­cord­ing to Mo­j­wok Ogawi Modo, direc­tor-gen­eral of the South Su­dan Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Depart­ment (SSMD).

Since South Su­dan gained its in­de­pen­dence, the bases have come un­der man­age­ment of the new na­tion's own me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal depart­ment.

While there are smaller weather sta­tions around the coun­try, set up by var­i­ous in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions, and many farm­ers keep their own records of the lo­cal weather, there is no way to col­late, an­a­lyse or share the data with the pub­lic, ex­perts say.

Old and spoiled

South Su­dan's largest weather sta­tion is run out of one small, crowded room on the sec­ond floor of the con­trol tower at the Juba In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

The space is so tight that its employees have trou­ble mov­ing in and out of the room.

It "is not a favourable work­ing en­vi­ron­ment," Modo said.

Most of the com­put­ers are old, some are bro­ken, and some sit un­used be­cause there are not enough peo­ple qual­i­fied to op­er­ate them, he said.

The depart­ment does not have enough de­vices to ac­cu­rately ob­serve or fore­cast the weather, Modo said. "The few we have are old and many are spoiled."

With no money to buy mod­ern elec­tronic weather-mon­i­tor­ing equip­ment, the SSMD re­lies on older meth­ods.

At­tached to a metal pole just out­side the con­trol tower is a white wooden box with slat­ted sides, called a Steven­son screen, with wet and dry barom­e­ters and a ther­mome­ter in­side it.

Two rain gauges sit in an over­grown okra gar­den, but only one of them works, said a mem­ber of the met depart­ment staff who asked not to be named.

And nearby, there is a Camp­bel­lS­tokes sun­shine recorder.

Based on an­tique tech­nol­ogy, the gad­get con­sists of a solid glass sphere that con­cen­trates the sun's rays onto a piece of cal­i­brated pa­per to make scorch marks in­di­cat­ing the time and in­ten­sity of the sun­shine.

This machine, how­ever, has no pa­per.

Nearby, the skele­tal re­mains of a radar an­tenna serve as a re­minder that Juba once had a fully func­tion­ing weather sur­veil­lance sys­tem.

With no equip­ment to de­tect pre­cip­i­ta­tion, South Su­dan's me­te­o­rol­o­gists say they can't per­form the ba­sic ser­vice of pre­dict­ing the tim­ing, in­ten­sity or lo­ca­tion of in­com­ing rain­fall.

Us­ing the few re­sources it does have, the Juba met sta­tion pro­vides weather in­for­ma­tion to air­craft trav­el­ing in and out of the cap­i­tal. But to make that data more widely avail­able, the SSMD needs more fund­ing, Modo said.

The depart­ment has a web­site, but can't af­ford to keep it up­dated.

"If we could get some as­sis­tance, the web­site would be an es­sen­tial tool" for farm­ers, he said.

Look­ing to the skies

Ac­cord­ing to Modo, the gov­ern­ment has plans to build met sta­tions in all of the coun­try's 32 states. But the pro­posal is still in the early stages and at the mo­ment there is not enough fund­ing to carry out the "huge task", he said.

As well as build­ing more met sta­tions, he would like to see the gov­ern­ment de­velop prod­ucts and ser­vices aimed at get­ting weather data quickly to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, help­ing peo­ple who are most im­pacted by drought and flood­ing.

"We could copy coun­tries like Uganda, where mo­bile phones are dis­trib­uted to com­mu­nity lead­ers and farm­ers so they can get early warn­ing of disas­ter," he said.

For now, farm­ers and herders in South Su­dan can only look to the skies for the in­for­ma­tion they need to cope with the coun­try's fast-chang­ing cli­mate.

"When it is cloudy, I know it will rain. And I also know the rainy sea­son starts from around May and the dry sea­son be­gins from around Oc­to­ber," said Mary Ki­den, a sub­sis­tence farmer in Juba's Munuki sub­urb.

"I didn't know we have me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal sta­tions that pro­vide us with such in­for­ma­tion," she said. REUTERS

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